I woke up to a strange sound. At first, I thought something metal or electric was being destroyed with a hammer. As I blinked my eyes clear in the darkness of the theater, I started to realize that the sound had a rhythm to it, and there were musical sounds in it too. I checked my pocket watch. It was about eleven; a little later than I usually woke up. I looked up to see the lights of my apartment glowing against the ceiling. She was awake. I assumed that sound must be a kind of music these days.

As I stood up, my neck and back screamed at me for sleeping in such a silly place. I stretched and rubbed at the sore spots as I bundled up my blanket and pillow, and headed upstairs. When I opened the door, I found her laptop to be the source of the noise. Now there was an ethereal female voice in the sound too, but it was so distorted that it was hard to make out the lyrics. I tossed my pillow and blanket onto the empty couch and heard a sound come from the bathroom.

Nora was standing in front of my mirror, dressed in new clothes now, with the bathroom door wide open as she did something to her hair. She was now wearing purple leggings and a black skirt that was a little longer than the last one, with a sleeveless white top on under a black tuxedo vest. She turned suddenly to look at me, catching my eyes on the silver chains that hung over the skirt on her hip.

“Good morning,” she said brightly. “You’re right, that couch is really comfortable,” she said, her hands in her purple hair and a pin hanging out the corner of her mouth. Her face was devoid of makeup now, and I was stunned to see how beautiful she really was. She looked older, closer to my age now, too.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, snapping my eyes away from her. “Good morning. Coffee?”

“Hell yes please,” she said, turning back to the mirror. “I’ll be out in a sec, okay?”

“No trouble,” I said, trying to figure out if I had any clean cups left. “Take your time.”

“How’d you sleep?” she called over the sounds of her laptop.

“Oh fine,” I said, turning on my electric kettle and filling it from a bottle of filtered water. Tap water kills the flavor of a good coffee. “Do you like South American or East Asian coffees?” I asked, looking over my collection.

“You know the difference?” she asked, her voice closer. I turned around to see her leaning out of the doorway and smiling widely at me. Half of her hair was now tied up in a tight bun, with the ends sticking out like tiny purple knives, while the rest of it hung down to the thin black ribbon that was tied snugly around her neck.

“Of course,” I said. “They’re as different as Jimmy Stewart and Peter Lori.”

“You’re totally awesome, you know that?” she said, a wicked light in her smile. “East Asian, please,” she said before disappearing again into the bathroom.

I decided on some rich Sumatran coffee. It was definitely going to be that kind of a morning. By the time the coffee was ready, and I’d found two clean cups, Nora came out of the bathroom. There were black lines painted around her eyes now, with a blush of deep purple on her eyelids that made her dark gray eyes look smoky and mysterious. The black lipstick, however, had been replaced by a rich, candy pink that contrasted strikingly with the purple of her hair. I could still see the natural beauty through the harsh makeup, but it wasn’t easy.

“It’s all yours,” she said.

“Here,” I said, handing her a cup of coffee. “There’s sugar right here, and I think there’s some milk in my fridge.”

“I like it black, thanks,” she said, sipping at her cup. “Ooo, tastes like Sumatra!” she said brightly.

I laughed lightly at her guess and opened the vintage traveling trunk in the corner that I used to hold my clothes. I needed a shower, that was for sure.

“Hey, can I take you to lunch for helping me out?” she asked as I picked through my clothes.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I said, glancing at her. She was sitting on the chair by the balcony now, one leg crossed over the other and her arm up on the bar as she sipped at her coffee. For just a moment, sitting in such an elegant ease, she could have been Bacall. Then, in a flash, her image cleared to ghoulish reality.

“Oh come on,” she said, leveling a look at me. “Chivalry only goes so far before turning into chauvinism. Let me take you out.”

I stared back at her—my mouth open to protest, but my words useless to me—affronted and confused all at the same time.

“I want pizza, anyway,” she said, smiling at me. “Where’s good around here?”

“I don’t know,” I muttered, returning my attention to picking out a tie.

“You don’t know?” she asked.

“I never eat pizza.”

She let out a gasp, and I looked to see her eyes wide with shock.

“What, now I’m the hunchback of Norte Dame because I don’t eat pizza?” I asked, more snippy than I’d meant to sound.

“No, you’re the hunchback of Norte Dame because you live above an old movie theater,” she said back simply, her face sharp and stern. “Not eating pizza makes you less than human.” She put her cup down and walked over to me in her big, heavy, black boots.

My heart pounded fast and I stared at her helplessly, unsure if I was somehow in physical danger or not. She could definitely kick my butt. How had I made her mad at me, anyway?

“I’m going to fix that, and I’m taking you to eat pizza, got it?” she said, pointing a shiny black finger nail at my face. I nodded, holding on to my courage as it fought to run away. “Good,” she said, suddenly snapping into a bright smile. “You get ready, and I’ll go ask someone else where the good places are.” She headed for her coat on the rack, finally moving away from me. “I’ll be back in a few,” she said, pulling her coat on.

“Wait,” I said, moving for the rack too. I felt a jolt of nerves, standing close to her. She’d released a hint of that sweet, bright scent when she’d put her coat on. “Take my keys or you won’t get back in,” I said, taking them out of my jacket pocket and handing them to her.

“Wow, a real skeleton key?” she said, grinning widely as she looked though my keys.

“That’s for something else,” I said. “This one is for the front of the theater,” I said, pointing to a modern looking key. “The door will open from inside, but it’ll be lock behind you.”

“Okay, got it,” she said, reaching for her top hat. “Be back in a flash,” she said, smiling at me as she placed it on her head, now to the side slightly, sitting on the spiky bun of death. A black scull, hung on a tiny black chain from her ear, drew my attention to her neck for an instant.

The moment my door closed behind her, my room felt cold and empty. Her music was still playing from the laptop. I stared at it for a moment, worried that if I tried to turn it off it would probably blow up or erase itself or something. Computers and I never got along, exactly. I gently closed the screen down on the keys, until it clicked. A second later, the music stopped but the machine continued to hum softly, giving me the confidence to leave it at that. Now that it was off, though, my room felt painfully quiet. I looked around at my walls, wondering why they didn’t feel as safe and comforting as they always did before. Nora’s ghost was staring at me from the shadows, chilling the air and making me edgy as hell.

I finally turned on my own music—a vintage record player in a leather case, with an LP of random 40s torch songs—and left the volume soft before I went to take my shower. Once I’d shaved, brushed my teeth, and dried my hair, the record got to Cry Me A River, sung by Julie London. That familiar voice, and that sweet sadness, did wonders to calm my still jumpy nerves. Nora still wasn’t back by the time I’d finished getting dressed, so I decided to wait for her in the lobby. I finished my coffee, turned off the music, and grabbed my gray, black-rimmed hat before heading downstairs. It should be warm enough to not need a coat today, with my clean silver shirt, heavy black wool vest buttoned up, black pinstripe slacks, and a white tie with a light silver diamond pattern. I left the theater and my café so rarely that it felt like a treat to get a little dressed up just to go out.

The lobby was full of sunlight, streaming in through the thick leaded glass windows that filled the front. The wood floor shined in the light, reflecting against the ornately embellished wood and gilded walls. The concessions counter was left dark and empty, but it would be full of sugar and salt in a few hours. I was half way down the red velvet lined stairs against the right wall of the lobby when Nora opened one of the front doors and came inside calling my name.

“Steve, you ready?” she yelled brightly, before catching sight of me on the stairs. Her coat was now tied around her waist by the sleeves and her bare arms seemed to glow caramel in the sunlight. She stopped in her tracks and stared at me. Then she laughed.

“What?” I asked, my nerves whirling into tension again.

“You’re adorable,” she said, coming closer but still laughing lightly. “Come here,” she said, beckoning me forward. I did as I was told, unsure what else to do, and stopped to stand in front of her. She closed the gap in one step and took hold of my tie, pulling it loose.

“Wha-what?!” I sputtered as she reached for the buttons at my throat too. My hands wouldn’t respond to stop her, hanging uselessly in the air instead.

“You’re not going to lunch with Audrey Hepburn,” she said, now attacking the cuff at my right wrist and rolling it back up my arm, “and we’re not eating at Tiffanies.” She finished rolling my other sleeve back to just below my elbow, and had left my tie hanging just above the top of my vest. She’d left my top two buttons undone, revealing just the top edge of my undershirt.

“There, that’s better,” she said, stepping back to admire her work.

“What … why…?” I muttered, helplessly.

“No, the vest makes you look too skinny,” she said, going for my vest buttons too.

“Wait, no, stop it!” I managed finally, stepping back and batting her hands away. “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to make you look less dapper,” she answered, looking confused.

“Why?” I asked back, trying not to yell.

“Because it’s the twenty first century, sweetie,” she said with a gentle smile. “No one looks dapper anymore. Ever.”

“I know that,” I said, straitening my clothes and re-buttoning my vest. “It’s not my fault.”

“Oh, don’t be so prissy,” she said, reaching for me again. I backed away out of reflex, but she only caught my arm, linking her own around it. “Come on, let’s go,” she said, smiling at me from inches away. “I found a good place.”

She led the way, pulling me into the sunlight. We passed through the doors, but she didn’t let go of me. I was eventually forced to just relax and walk beside her, arm in arm. I could remember seeing people walk together this way under warm sunlight and a cool, spring sky in my movies, but I couldn’t remember actually doing it myself before. Of course, I’m sure that Nora and I must have looked slightly absurd; me in a clean, simple suit, and her in chains, purple hair, and a top hat. But she was laughing, smiling brightly, and talking about how beautiful the day was. I couldn’t help but smile too.


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